Day 1 & 2 – Coast Starlight Departing Portland and Rolling South

The day started out pretty normal for a Saturday, slow and chill.  I suspect it was about 74, give or take a few degrees, and the sun was out.  Jo and I decided after finalizing our packed luggage to head for some biscuits at Pine State Biscuits.  With that we where out the door and headed for the east bound #4 Bus.

We arrived in short order.  The bus stop at 20th & Division is pretty cool.  It happens to have no shelter, but is near a New Seasons.  So nearby there are chairs and tables just off the paved sidewalk, near the side entranceway.  There are windows all along this part of New Seasons, which give it an open feeling of welcome to any bus riders waiting or coming.  Near the corner of the store there is a art piece that also acts as runoff from the roof.  The piece is kind of a metal scare crow man, holding a wheel of some sort where the water runs in and down.  From there the water runs into a bioswale (spelling?) where it is cleansed and sent into the river runoff.

We stood patiently and waited about 5 minutes for the arrival.  We were a little carried away with getting biscuits so had arrived excessively early.  The bus arrived on time and off we headed toward 39th, where we would transfer to the #75 north bound.  After arriving and transferring we were off again.  Finally we arrived at Belmont, got off the bus, and walked the remainder of the few blocks.

Pine State Biscuits

In standard Pine State Biscuits fashion there was a 30+ minute line for biscuits.  Thanks to some TV shows who showcased their awesome biscuits, we now had a line every Saturday and Sunday of out of towners and suburbanites.  I couldn’t really blame either group of people, the biscuits are awesome, and you just can’t get food like this in the burbs or most other towns for that matter.  But seriously, I’m sickened by the burbites most of the time.  As the statistics point out, urbanites are generally in better shape, healthier, and all around much nicer to look at.  Burbites tend to make the stomach spin and the skin crawl.  The IQ points tend to drop too, just like the general statistics of the bell curve.  One doesn’t have to assume, it is on display by their very actions.

But I do digress.

We got our biscuits, sat down and enjoyed them as one properly should.  Afterwards we left and walked back, a mere few blocks to the bus stop, and boarded the #75 for our return trip.  After the return trip transfer and the short walk from Ladd & Division (the west bound stop parallel to 20th & Division), we got our luggage together and prepared for the grand mileage of this vacation.  The real journey, our multiple hundreds of miles to traverse upon the Coast Starlight to LA.

Back aboard our trusty #9 bus to downtown and Union Station.  As we walked out the door and up to the bus stop the $9 pulled up for our transport.  We boarded with the largest set of packed luggage we’ve ever traveled with and took up almost the whole back seat of the bus (that’s 5 seats for those bus newbs).  Fortunately we didn’t feel too bad about it being that we actually managed to get on a bus that only had about 15 people on it.  This was very strange for today, and for the #9 route.  Often we don’t see buses with only 15 people on this route until about 10pm or so.

We got to the station at 2:35pm.  We had checked earlier and our #11 Coast Starlight was an hour and a half late leaving Seattle.  We figured we would be plenty ahead of her then if we arrived 10 minutes after the original scheduled departure time.  Of course, we were right and took a relaxing break in the Metropolitan Lounge in Union Station.  It is always nice to travel first class like this and have access to the lounges.

The Coast Starlight arrived and we all boarded.  We departed from the station at 3:24pm, exactly 59 minutes late.  A time that could theoretically be made up easily.

#11 headed out across the Willamette, plying the rail bridge as thousands of trains have before us, heading across and turning south for our journey.  We made really good time all the way through until the mountains just before Chemault before we had any additional delays.  This delay was merely a few minutes at that, which left us with a good potential to make up the tardiness.

Train People, British, and Conversations

When we boarded, my mother and father had boarded in Vancouver, Washington to ride with us to Eugene.  We decided after pulling out of Portland to head to the Lounge Car and hang out with them for a bit.  We started walking through our sleeping car, enjoying the slight rocking of the train.  Jo mentioned how she had missed this, as I did myself.  We made our way through the next sleeping car and into the Parlor Car.  We got halfway through the car and there on the lounge couch chairs sat mother and father.  We plunked down and immediately dove into conversation.

Jo & my mother began knitting away in turbo mode while father and I discussed various aspects of the voyage as we travelled along.  We passed through Milwaukee and into Oregon City.  In Oregon City we moved through with a slow order for the work crews doing maintenance on the tracks.  As we crept out of Oregon City we viewed the Willamette, and the water crashing over the dam for the industrial facilities along the river.

Father saw a lady sitting across from us with a book titled “USA by Rail” and inquired where she had boarded.  She answered, “I boarded in Chicago and took the Empire Builder across to Portland.”  He immediately, as did we all, picked up that she had a good and true British accent.  He, and I, discussed aspects of her trip so far.  She was happy to discuss and asked a few questions about various things along the way.  We pointed out a few tidbits for her to keep an eye out for.

We kept a steady banter up almost all the way to Eugene.  In preparation for detraining mother and father decided to head back to their coach seats about 25 minutes before their Eugene arrival.  Jo and I headed off to the Sleeper to enjoy the view and relax while we waited for our 6:30pm dinner reservations.  The view, as always, was magnificent.

6:30pm Dinner Reservations, More Friendliness & Tasty Foods

The announcement was made over the intercom that 6:30pm dinner reservations were ready.  Jo and I immediately shoved our ready feet back into our shoes and off we marched for dinner.  As with all meals in the dining car, all seats at all tables are filled, so often couples sit with other couples, loners sit with others, and the arrangements go on and on.  Needless to say, at any meal in the diner on a train one gets to meet new people.

Jo & I got to meet a couple from Connecticut for dinner.  The couple had just visited Portland for the first time.  The husband of the couple had flown in earlier in the week for business.  His wife, who hates flying, flew out later in the week.  They both had decided that they’d then take the train south just for fun.

We discussed with this couple, as we often do with anyone when they visit Portland, how absolutely amazing the city is.  The conversation ranged from the amazing transit that even tourists feel fine using, the easy access to all parts of town, the beautiful parks, and more.  Basically, I don’t recall ever meeting a single person who isn’t amazed at what Portland is.  They brought up their nearest comparison, Hartford Connecticut and described how horrible it is compared to Portland.  Stating simply, “their mayor of Hartford needed to come spend some really time in Portland to get their city of Hartford straiten
ed out.”

It is moments like these I realize how awesome Portland really is, amid the random bitching and griping that often goes on among a select few of us that push hard for things to be even better.  Portland truly is, one of the best cities in America, hands down no contest.

We finished our dinner, Jo with her Mahi Mahi & I with my crab cakes.  Dessert was a must have of apple tart.  After a tasty dinner topped off with some great Pinot Grigio Wine we headed back again to our roomette.

We carried on about the rest of the night, eventually heading back to the Parlor Car for a late night chocolate and a cappuccino.  Of course, all this being part of the new Parlor Car Service of the Coast Starlight.  Eventually midnight struck, and we both managed to pass out after a great first day of vacation and a grand day around Portland and aboard the Coast Starlight.

Day 2 – Coast Starlight Arriving in Los Angeles

We awoke north of Martinez, California.  The train was back on schedule and making good time.  We were easily running at 79mph, the legal speed limit.  We made it across the water and along the shore, into Martinez.  In short order we were out of Martinez and on our way again.

We pulled into Emeryville and then on to Oakland’s Jack London Station.  There we, for whatever reason, got a third engine attached to our train.  So even though we were back on time, this addition put us back about 5-10 minutes.

As we rolled out of Emeryville we ran parallel to the BART tracks, and along came a 6 car train parallel to us.  At first it easily passed us up, being we had just pulled out of the station.  We gained speed quickly, probably thanks to our additional engine, and kept pace with the BART train.  We gained a little bit on the BART, and then as it came to a station we finally overtook the train and rolled past.  We rode along for another 5-6 minutes and finally caught another BART train, the tracks still running nearly parallel to us, about a block away.  We easily overtook this 4 car BART train and kept rolling fast.

Catching Up From Day 1 PM

The last night somewhere rising in the mountains Wad (a writer from the Metrorider LA blog) had managed to get a call through to me.  Even though my connection was horrible I picked up and we talked for about 10 seconds before the phone lost connection again.  I tired calling back, but unfortunately we’d moved just far enough to eliminate any signal whatsoever.  The iPhone read, “No Signal”, and so I gave up trying for the night.

This morning when we awoke I realized, still here in California just west of Sacramento heading into Martinez that I had really cruddy signal.  Since it was 7am I figured it wouldn’t be prudent to call about at this time anyway.  I stashed the phone away and watched as the scenery flew by.

South of Oakland

After the little BART races, we kept a well intentioned 79 mph through southern Oakland and points further south.  Jo was livid over not being able to photograph the graffiti (mind you, not the tags, but the large pieces of graffiti).  While eating breakfast we determined we would have to make a trip sooner than later back to the area and make a real endeavor to capture some of the graffiti.

It might seem odd, but it is almost like anthropological study of peoples.  The graffiti tells a story, showcases the lives and emotes an expression of various individuals in an area.  Sure it is frustrating and often times, defacement of property, which I am adamantly against.  But once it is there, a sense of history can be derived by capturing it in pictures.  If I used this explanation to state a fascination, at least of my own, with graffiti I may bore any of those graffiti artists into picking up a new art form.

The train, just like so many along this route, travel directly through a lot of industrial areas.  These areas have thousands of pieces of graffiti (and unfortunately tagging) on the buildings.  The train also passes through hundreds of neighborhoods that have popped up over the years along the rail line.  Some sprawl, some urban zoned, some just sporadic catastrophes in the making.

San Jose and Beyond

We pulled into San Jose Diridon Station along the side of a CalTrain Commuter Train (that really sounds redundant).  The station was really fairly nice from the outside.  If I had known that we’d be sitting at the station for 10 minutes (like we seem to do at Sacramento and every station south of that.  Whatever the reason, if we do this heading north, I’m going to go picture taking crazy.

So far, Jo and I haven’t been too motivated to photograph much of anything.  Much of what can be viewed from the train around Emeryville, Oakland, and San Jose make California seem more like a third world nation than part of the the 1st world United States.  I know there are beautiful parts of this area, but the train skips much of it around the urban areas.

We headed out of San Jose for the remaining 10 or so hours of our journey.

As the Conductor Says, “Let’s talk about walking the train.”

Departing San Jose Diridon Station the conductor came over the IC to welcome everyone aboard.  In this new era of train travel there really does seem to be a new exuberance among the employees.  When I say new era, I’m referring to the “Obama Era of Train Travel”.  The conductor explained to people, that at 79 mph along this stretch of rail the walking gets a little bit difficult.  With a short explanation of feet at shoulders width, and walk with purses slung, make sure to have a hand ready so you don’t fall.  I could help but think, “newbs!”  🙂

The Popular Choice, Light Rail

Leaving San Jose station we passed over the Interstate and what did we have in the right of way, but none other than the transit mode du jour, light rail.  A single unit LRV was making its way parallel to the Interstate, to which we where running parallel to on the other side.  It seemed to go on for quite a few miles.  This however is one light rail system I literally know nothing about.  Don’t know where it goes, don’t know the ridership, and in all honesty, didn’t even realize it was here.  I will absolutely have to check it out and see what the specs are on that route.

Anyway, we arrived at 8:35pm, 35 minutes ahead of schedule.  I have to say, fairly impressive for the ole’ Star Late.  Our friend actually came an picked us up, as we could figure out reasonable transit to get to Balboa Peninsula.  The rest of this evening I’ll conclude in the next entry, for now, off to the metropolitan area of Los Angeles.

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